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Daily News Blog

22
Dec

Groups Again Call for Urgent Action to Eliminate Pesticide Industry’s Influence at the United Nations

(Beyond Pesticides, December 22, 2022) International health and environmental groups submitted an urgent letter to  the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) late last month demanding greater transparency and accountability through termination of the agency’s two-year-old partnership with CropLife International (CLI), a global trade association representing the world’s biggest pesticide manufacturers. Addressed to FAO Deputy Director Beth Bechdol ahead of FAO Council 171 session in Rome and COP15, the letter outlines a unique opportunity for the organization to lead the phaseout of fossil-fuel based food systems and use of agrochemicals while upholding the agency’s responsibility to act in response to conflicts of interest and human rights violations.  

The original Letter of Intent (LOI), signed between CLI President and CEO Guilia Di Tommaso and FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu in October 2020, framed the partnership as a means to ensure humanity’s freedom from hunger while advancing Sustainable Development Goals. However, according to PAN Europe Policy Officer Manon Rouby, “While the private sector has been working with FAO for years, this official agreement with CropLife directly threatens FAO’s work on supporting farmers in the transition towards agroecology, while reducing the harms of synthetic pesticides worldwide. With CropLife members being the largest agrichemical companies in the world, this association is unacceptable and a direct threat to human rights. We once again urge the FAO to rescind this agreement.” 

According to the  original letter’s co-authors,  200,000 individuals from over 107 countries, over430 civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations, nearly 300 academics and scientists, and nearly 50philanthropic groups, as well as the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, raised concerns in a report addressed in 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council. While the backlash prevented the LOI from moving forward into a more formal Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year, as of today’s publication, the agreement remains in place without a set expiration date, fundamentally undermining the agency’s support for alternatives to generate ecologically-based agrifood systems without toxic pesticides. 

With 11 subsidiary national associations and six member companies (BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC, Sumitomo Chemical, and Syngenta), CLI has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. While claiming to champion the role of agricultural innovation in crop protection to advance sustainable agriculture, instead, the pesticide industry is leveraging “agricultural innovation and digital technology” to expand market opportunities and increase profits in the Global South. Private sector investments are actively being facilitated through the FAO’s Hand-In-Hand Initiative; for example, in October 2020, the Director General actively appealed to CropLife for investments in low and middle-income countries in his speech to the CLI Board of Directors.  

While CLI has not made any direct financial contributions to FAO since 2011, member companies outsized political and economic influence on pesticide-related policies, alongside global export and distribution, is bearing fruit in lucrative markets like Nigeria. Between 2015 and 2019, the country’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) registered approximately 822 pesticides, of which 63% are classified as highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) with glyphosate holding the highest share of imports (67.4 and 53.4 percent in kilograms and liters respectively). Across all 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, FAO estimates that the use of pesticides increased by 150% between 2006 and 2019, attaining over 100,000 tons per year. In addition to highly hazardous pesticide (HHP) sales being higher in the region, exponential impacts on health and environment reveal a vulnerability exploited by the partnership in the Global South. According to a survey by the Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria and Alliance for Action on Pesticides (AAPN) in Nigeria, 80 percent of pesticides used by women in four Northern Central states (Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, and Abuja) are highly toxic to humans and require additional regulation. 

While the increased level of use has resulted in negative health, environmental and economic consequences in-country and around the world, FAO continues to expand private partnerships in hosting regional workshops this year on the “proper management of pesticides” in the Middle East and North Africa region, with over a dozen countries participating in Jordan despite obstacles to implementation such as insufficient staffing, lack of an adequate registration system, limited expertise, lack of risk assessment measures, and limited access to information.  

Considering these negative impacts surrounding CSI’s expanding sphere of influence, the group’s urgent letter strongly urges FAO to prevent CLI and its member companies from attaining permanent observer status, as such a move would “further the conflict of interest that exists between CLI and FAO, grant even greater privileges to the pesticide industry, and blur the areas of collaboration that already lack transparency.” Following the precedent pioneered by UN Women, which ends its Memorandum of Understanding with investment firm BlackRock after receiving feedback from civil society, FAO has reached a turning point.  

As an original signatory to the PAN UK June 9th letter, Beyond Pesticides echoes PAN UK in that it is imperative to “prioritize people-led agroecology as an innovative climate resilience solution and ensure that climate and science strategies do not give precedence to pesticide and fertilizer products, nor private sector entities affiliated with human rights violations or environmental destruction.” CSI’s fundamental objective is the maximizing of toxic pesticide sales and runs counter to reducing reliance. As Beyond Pesticides has constantly reiterated that “sustainable” pesticide use or incremental reductions will not prevent a variety of downstream impacts and existential crises. Pesticides are damaging pollinator populations, adding to the human chemical body burden, catalyzing disease processes, launching trophic cascades, degrading agricultural soils, and so much more. 

As FAO aims to “achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives”, truly sustainable, organic production with a focus on regenerative practices must lead the way. It is only through agricultural and other land management practices that eliminate petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, and organic production, on a global scale from the United Nations to local communities in the Global South at home, that we stand a chance of making sustainable change in the long run for ourselves, our children, and the world at large.  

Please consider helping Beyond Pesticides advocate for the transition to organic regenerative agriculture, and other benign land management approaches. You can join/contribute, take up the issue in your local community, organize with others for state-level action, and more; let us know if we can help: [email protected] or 202.543.5450.

Signatories of the late November letter included: Keith Tyrell, Chair, Pesticide Action Network International; Million Belay, Coordinator, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA); David Azoulay, Environmental Health Program Director, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL); Sofía Monsalve, Secretary General, FIAN International; Kirtana Chandrasekaran and Martín Drago, Food Sovereignty Program Coordinators, Friends of the Earth International; Sophia Murphy, Executive Director, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP); Andrea Carmen, Executive Director, International Indian Treaty Council (IITC); Pam Miller and Tadesse Amera, Co-Chairs, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN); Sue Longley, General Secretary, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF); Laurent Gaberell and Carla Hoinkes, Agriculture and Food Experts, Public Eye; and Chee Yoke Ling, Executive Director, Third World Network. 

Source: Letter to UN FAO Deputy Director 

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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